Fans of Community are all too familiar with the power of Spanish genius El Tigre Chino and how his knowledge has the power to bite people’s faces off. Ken Jeong who essayed the role of Señor Ben Chang is the polar opposite of his character.
Ken had earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame less than 24 hours before he sits with us for the interview and he looks visibly overwhelmed with gratitude, “I am processing it as I am speaking right now. I’m just very, very, very, very grateful.”
“How come I did not know this?” exclaims John Cho, a skilful actor in his own right famous for his roles as Hikaru Sulu in the Star Trek rebooted film series and Harold Lee in the Harold & Kumar films.
Ken, in his disbelief, is speechless.
“Where is the star exactly? I am going to get my muddy boots and step on it,” remarks John even though he is gleaming at Ken. I hesitate to continue as the duo seems to be processing the honour like two friends would in an intimate setting. But one has got to do what one has got to do, sigh.
Ken and John play Feng and Ulysses in the second season of Apple TV+’s murder mystery The Afterparty. In the latest instalment, a wedding is ruined after the groom is found murdered and every guest becomes a suspect. Detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish) returns to solve the case by questioning family members, star-crossed lovers, and business partners, and listening to their retelling of the weekend. Each episode of the show explores a different character’s account of one fateful evening, all told through the lens of popular film genres and unique visuals to match the storyteller’s perspective.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
Did you have a favourite genre to shoot for? How did you adapt your characters to fit each genre with ease?
John: I don’t think I had a preference. I am evading your question but I really loved jumping into each genre and adapting my role accordingly. You never get to do that within a single project.
Ken: I do not want to give much away but I liked that all the genres explored in the latest season are nothing like the ones touched upon in the first season. It is really a testament to the skills Christopher Miller, Anthony King, and Phil Lord wield — they are undeniable in what they do and it is their recipe for success. With this cast, it is literally a murderer’s row of amazing stuff, pun intended.
John and I talk about how exceptionally talented everyone is.
John: You always said everyone except for…
Ken: Guys! (whispers) let’s cut that out. I said everyone for the record. (laughs) But really, it was one of my favourite experiences of my career. I have been wanting to work with John all my life… he never wanted to work with me, but I trapped him and we are here doing a junket together. (laughs)
While working with a large ensemble how important is it to nail your comedic timing and what was the rapport you shared on set?
John: Everyone was funny in a unique way. It had been a while since I had done comedy so I just sat back and enjoyed watching everyone do their thing. The different styles of comedy were as diverse as the genres of the episodes — some actors were improvisational, others were physical while few others were subtle. For me, it was like being in a candy shop and enjoying the different kinds of humour.
Ken: In a rare moment of sincerity which I hope you cut out… it was a joy to see John’s process because right from the table read he just embodied the character of Ulysses. I remember talking to other actors about this and we were like woah Cho came to play.
John: Oh wow!
Ken: I did not want to tell John that (laughs). But when you work with people like him who set the bar so high, you just become better by osmosis.
John: I really feel like our approach to our characters was similar even though the characters we play are very different from each other. It was a learning experience to be able to watch Ken do his thing.
Ken: Full disclosure, I can say it on record now: I really did not know what I was doing.
John, the episode dedicated to you demanded a lot of dancing. Did that limit your expression as an actor in any way?
John: I stumbled through it. It was really difficult but I had a blast doing it. However, I am not sure if anyone would ever allow me to dance on screen again.
Ken: It was incredible watching his scenes… they were really magnetic.
John: I am not a dancer. I am someone who would reluctantly agree to dance but the show gifted dance to me and I love it more than I ever did before. It has been a positive addition to my life.
Ken, your episode was constructed using found footage. Why choose this as a medium to inform viewers about Feng?
Ken: That is a great question. Feng is a desperate person — desperate for love, acceptance and validation. So, shooting everything on an iPhone captured the pain, grittiness and unpleasantness in an artistic way.
John: Secretly, I think it was the toughest episode to shoot, especially from an actor’s point of view. I have a little bit of sympathy for Ken because this medium does not allow cutaways. You have to make sure all the information is being relayed because there is no room for error.
Though my time has run out, Ken and John are busy mimicking their characters and putting their camaraderie on full display. Apple TV+, some BTS footage to get a glimpse of their antics on set would be great.